THURSDAY OF THE FIRST WEEK
OF THE GREAT LENT
23. A certain man called Isidore, of magistrate’s rank, from the city of Alexandria, had recently renounced the world in the above-mentioned monastery, and I found him still there. That most holy shepherd, after accepting him, found that he was full of mischief, very cruel, sly, fierce, and arrogant. But with human ingenuity that most wise man contrived to outwit the cunning of the devils, and said to Isidore: “If you have decided to take upon yourself the yoke of Christ, then I want you first of all to learn obedience.” Isidore replied: “As iron to the smith, so I surrender myself in submission to you, holy father.” The great father, making use of this comparison, at once gave exercise to the iron Isidore, and said: “I want you, brother by nature, to stand at the gate of the monastery, and to make a prostration to everyone coming in or going out, and to say: ‘Pray for me, father; I am an epileptic.'” And he obeyed as an angel obeys the Lord.
When he had spent seven years there, he attained to deep humility and compunction. Then the glorious father, after the lawful seven years and the man’s incomparable patience, judged him fully worthy to be numbered among the brethren and wanted to profess him and have him ordained. But Isidore through others and through my feeble intervention, implored the shepherd many times to let him finish his course as he was living before, vaguely hinting that his end and call were drawing near. And that was actually the case. For when his director had allowed him to remain as he was, ten days later in his lowliness he passed gloriously to the Lord. And on the seventh day after his own falling asleep, the porter of the monastery was also taken. For the blessed man had said to him: “If I have found favour in the sight of the Lord, in a short time you also will be inseparably joined to me there.” And that is what happened, in witness of his unashamed obedience and divine humility.
24. When he was still living, I asked this great Isidore what occupation his mind had found during his time at the gate. And the famous ascetic did not hide this from me, wishing to help me: “In the beginning,” he said, “I judged that I had been sold into slavery for my sins; and so it was with bitterness, with a great effort, and as it were with blood that I made the prostration. But after a year had passed, my heart no longer felt sorrow, and I expected a reward for my obedience from God Himself. But when another year had gone by, I began to be deeply conscious of my unworthiness even to live in the monastery, and see and meet the fathers, and partake of the Divine Mysteries. And I did not dare to look anyone in the face, but bending low with my eyes, and still lower with my thought, I sincerely asked for the prayers of those coming in and going out.”
25. Once as we were sitting together in the refectory, this great superior put his holy mouth to my ear and said: “Do you want me to show you divine prudence in extreme old age?” And when I begged him to do so, the righteous man called from the second table one named Laurence, who had been about forty-eight years in the community and was second priest in the monastery. He came and made a prostration to the abbot, and took his blessing. But when he stood up, the abbot said nothing whatever to him, but left him standing by the table without eating. Breakfast had only just begun, and so he was standing for a good hour, or even two. I was ashamed to look this toiler in the face, for his hair was quite white and he was eighty years old. And when we got up, the saint sent him to the great Isidore whom we mentioned above to recite to him the beginning of the thirty-ninth Psalm.
26. And I, like a most worthless person, did not miss the chance of tempting the old man. And when I asked him what he was thinking of when he was standing by the table, he said: “I thought of the shepherd as the image of Christ, and I considered that I had not received the command from him at all, but from God. And so I stood praying, Father John, not as before a table of men, but as before the altar of God; and because of my faith and love for the shepherd, no evil thought of him entered my mind, for love does not resent an injury. But know this, Father, that if anyone surrenders himself to simplicity and voluntary innocence, then he no longer gives the devil either time or place to attack him.”
About a Bursar.
27. God sent that just saviour of spiritual sheep under God another exactly like himself to be the bursar of the monastery; for he was chaste and temperate as no one else, and meek as very few are. Once the great elder, for the edification of the others, pretended to get angry with him in church, and ordered him to be sent out before the time. Knowing that he was innocent of what the pastor accused him, when we were alone I began to plead the cause of the bursar before the great man. But the wise director said: “And I too know, Father, that he is not guilty, but just as it would be a pity and wrong to snatch bread from the mouth of a starving child, so too the director of souls does harm both to himself and to the ascetic if he does not give him frequent opportunities to obtain crowns such as the superior considers he merits at every hour by bearing insults, dishonour, contempt, or mockery. For three very serious wrongs are done: first, the director himself is deprived of the rewards which he would receive for corrections and punishments; secondly, the director acts unjustly when by virtue of that one person he could have brought profit to others, but does not do so; and thirdly, the most serious harm is that often the very people who seem to be most hard-working and patient, if left for a time without blame or reproach from the superior as people confirmed in virtue, lose the meekness and patience they previously had. For even land that is good and fruitful and fertile, if left without the water of dishonour, can revert to forest and produce the thorns of vanity, cowardice, and audacity. Knowing this, that great Apostle sent word to Timothy: ‘Keep at it, reprove, rebuke them in season and out of season.'”
28. I disputed the matter with that true director, and reminded him of the infirmity of our race, and that the undeserved, or perhaps not undeserved, punishment may make many break away from the flock. Again that temple of wisdom said: “A soul attached to the shepherd with love and faith for Christ’s sake will not leave him even if it were at the price of his blood, and especially if he has received through him the healing of his wounds, for he remembers him who says: Neither angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor any other creature can separate us from the love of Christ. But if the soul is not attached, bound, and devoted to the shepherd in this way, then I wonder if such a man is not living in this place in vain, for he is united to the shepherd by a hypocritical and false obedience.” And truly this great man is not deceived, but he has directed, led to perfection and offered to Christ unblemished sacrifices.
29. Let us hear and wonder at the wisdom of God found in earthen vessels. When I was in the same monastery, I was amazed at the faith and patience of the novices, and how they bore rebukes and insults from the superior with invincible fortitude, and some times even expulsion; and endured this not only from the superior but even from those far below him. For my spiritual edification I questioned one of the brothers called Abbacyrus who had lived fifteen years in the monastery. For I saw that almost all greatly maltreated him, and those who served drove him out of the refectory almost every day because the brother was by nature just a little too talkative. And I said to him: “Brother Abbacyrus, why do I see you being driven out of the refectory every day, and often going to bed without supper?” He replied: “Believe me, Father, my fathers are testing me to see whether I am really a monk. But they are not doing this in real earnest. And knowing the great man’s aim and theirs, I bear all this without getting depressed; and I have done so now for fifteen years. For on my entry into the monastery they themselves told me that those who renounce the world are tested for thirty years. And rightly, Father John, for without trial gold is not purified.”
30. This heroic Abbacyrus lived in the monastery for two years after my coming there, and then passed to the Lord. Just before his death he said to the Fathers: “I am thankful, thankful to the Lord and to you. For having been tempted by you for my salvation, I have lived for seventeen years without temptations from devils.” The just shepherd duly rewarded him and ordered him, as a confessor, to be buried with the local saints.
About Macedonius the Archdeacon.
31. I should be quite unjust to all enthusiasts for perfection if I were to bury in the tomb of silence the achievement and reward of Macedonius, the first of the deacons there. This man, so consecrated to the Lord, just before the feast of the Holy Theophany, actually two days before it, once asked the pastor for permission to go to Alexandria for a certain personal need of his, promising to return from the city as soon as possible for the approaching festival and the preparation for it. But the devil, the hater of good, hindered the archdeacon, and though released by the abbot, he did not return to the monastery for the holy feast at the time appointed by the superior. On his returning a day late, the pastor deposed him from the diaconate and put him in the rank of the lowest novices. But that good deacon of patience and archdeacon of endurance accepted the father’s decision as calmly as if another had been punished and not himself. And when he had spent forty days in that state, the wise pastor raised him again to his own rank. But scarcely a day had passed before the archdeacon begged the pastor to leave him in his former discipline and dishonour, saying: “I committed an unforgivable sin in the city.” But knowing that Macedonius was telling him an untruth and that he sought punishment only for the sake of humility, the Saint yielded to the good wish of the ascetic. Then what a sight there was! An honoured elder with white hair spending his days as a novice and sincerely begging everyone to pray for him. “For,” said he, “I fell into the fornication of disobedience.” But this great Macedonius in secret told me, lowly though I am, why he voluntarily pursued such a humiliating course of life. “Never,” he assured me, “have I felt in myself such relief from every conflict and such sweetness of divine light as now. It is the property of angels,” he continued, “not to fall, and even, as some say, it is quite impossible for them to fall. It is the property of men to fall, and to rise again as often as this may happen. But it is the property of devils, and devils alone, not to rise once they have fallen.”
About a Certain Other Brother.
32. A brother who was the bursar of the monastery confided this to me: “When I was young,” he said, “and was looking after cattle, I once had a very serious spiritual fall. But as it was never my habit to hide a snake in a hole in my heart, I caught it by the tail (and by the tail I mean the end of the business) and at once showed it to the physician. But with a smiling face, he struck me lightly on the jaw, and said to me: ‘Go, child, and continue your work as before, without being afraid in the least.’ And accepting this with flaming faith, in the course of a few days I received the assurance of my healing, and continued my way with both joy and fear.”
33. Every kind of creature, as some say, has its differences which distinguish it from others. So, too, in the company of the brothers there were differences both in success and in disposition. When their physician noticed that some liked to display themselves before people of the world who were visiting the monastery, then in the presence of such visitors he subjected them to extreme insults and gave them the most humiliating task, so that they began to beat a hasty retreat, and the arrival of secular visitors proved to be their victory. Then an extraordinary spectacle presented itself: vanity chasing herself away and escaping from people.
About Saint Menas.
34. As the Lord did not wish to deprive me of the prayer of a holy father in the same monastery, a week before my departure He took to Himself a wonderful man called Menas who occupied the second place after the superior, and had lived fifty-nine years in the community fulfilling all the various offices. On the third day after the falling asleep of this holy man, when we had performed the customary rites over him, suddenly the whole place where the saint was resting was filled with fragrance. Then the great man allowed us to uncover the coffin in which he had been placed, and when this was done we all saw that fragrant myrrh was flowing like two fountains from his precious feet. Then that teacher said to all: “Look! The sweat of his toils and labours have been offered as myrrh to God and truly accepted.”
The fathers of that place told us of many triumphs of this most saintly Menas, and amongst others the following: “Once the superior wanted to test his God-given patience. In the evening Menas came to the abbot’s cell, and having prostrated before the abbot, asked him as usual to give him instruction. But the abbot left him lying on the ground till the hour of the Office, and only then blessed him; and having rebuked him for being fond of self-display and for being impatient, he ordered him to get up. The holy man knew Menas would bear all this courageously, and therefore he made this scene for the edification of all.” A disciple of Saint Menas confirmed what was told us about his director, and added: “I was inquisitive to know whether sleep overcame him while he lay prostrate before the abbot. But he assured me that while lying on the ground he had recited by heart the whole psalter.”